Let me tell you about my frustrations with social media marketing.
It’s a sad story. On one hand, I applaud the internet, blogs, social media sites. I think of the people throughout history, okay, even before history, people of different cultures, races, times, gender, who had the chance of a snowball in hell of having their work read, seen, shared. I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have given almost anything to have her work published. Vincent Van Gogh finally had his day in the sun, but he died before he actually saw it. (This Doctor Who snip always brings tears to my eyes.)
And for awhile, it was great to be able to share my work and my words so easily. The day I started my first blog at Radio Userland, I felt a surge of freedom I’d never felt before. I didn’t need an editor, a publisher, an agent, nada. All I needed was the courage to tell my stories, share my thoughts, give insights based on my own experience selling/marketing/making and hopefully offer validation and hope to others who felt less-than-successful with their own creative work.
I love Pinterest, because I can create an online scrapbook of images that inspire me, intrigue me, give me ideas for my own projects. ) I love Instagram too. It’s a great venue for artists, I’m told, and I have a pretty big audience there, too. I can share all kinds of images of my work, inspiration, process, etc.
Then Radio Userland died. I moved to WordPress, but I did some great writing on Radio Userland. For awhile, I couldn’t even access my own articles there, until my hubby used his tech skills to create new urls for my blog there. Now I can find them, and republish them occasionally on my WordPress blog.
Then Facebook got bigger, and then it was/is immense. It also became all about the money. Facebook bought Instagram, and now it’s headed the same way.
I read a transcript of a Zoom video by Dave Geada, marketing guru at FineArtStudiosOnline (FASO.com) where I have my own website, and where I wrote a regular column for 12 years for Fine Art Views until a couple months ago. I still love the support structure of FASO for artists, and I’m glad to hold on to my website there.
Dave is as heart-centered as I am when it comes to marketing, I love almost everything he has to share on how to up our marketing skills, and many of the Zoom meetings are free to all. He loves Instagram, too, and has created many videos on how to use it effectively. I’ve gotten great tips and insights about social media markting (especially Instagram) from his Zooms, and many are free to ALL artists. Check out their Art Marketing Playbook here: AMP
But I’m beginning to feel lost in a huge dust storm that is suffocating.
Dave points out that Facebook regularly introduces new algorithms that block who can see our posts, forcing us to consider buying ads so we can grow our audience. Suddenly, a thousand followers shrinks down to a handful in my Facebook business page.
Instagram hashtags are a hot mess for a creative like me. I’ve tried hundreds of them over the years, tags that sound extremely descriptive of my style, my subject matter, my materials, etc. And yet, when I take the time to test them out, not very many put me in the company of other work that’s anything like mine.
In other words, it’s a blessing to be making work that’s unique, easily recognizable as mine, etc. But it’s frustrating to realize the tags I use regularly either throw me into a bottomless pit with hundreds of thousands of other people’s images, most nothing like mine, and ensuring I’ll be in someone’s feed about ten thousand posts down. (So, almost zippo visibility.) I’m lost in the shuffle. Or worse…More finely-tuned tags find me in a pond that’s way too small (although the images will hang around longer.) One example: I use #blackhorse for my faux soapstone horses. But I’m the only little handheld black horse sculpture in a sea of images of REAL black horses.
In the end, I can’t think of any way someone could even imagine my work, and look for it, unless they already know it, or they know my name. (Don’t send me suggestions unless you’ve researched them yourselves, okay?) (I mean, thank you for thinking of me, but it’s just not that simple.)
And the biggest surprise of all? I just found out that two superstars in the polymer clay world have quite modest followers on Instagram.
Ford and Forlano have been megastars for decades, two of the first polymer clay makers to hit it big with their work. It’s fabulous, beautifully made, expensive, and carried by the finest galleries in the country. Their Instagram following? 1,500 people. About the same as mine, a relatively-nobody/not nearly as famous nor successful.
Cynthia Tinapple is a polymer clay artist/teacher who has curated polymer clay work for decades with her Polymer Clay Daily newsletter, and her weekly subscription-based Studio Mojo newsletter. (WOW! I just tried to see when PCD first started. It looks like the first post was published on September 11, 2005. MY BIRTHDAY!!) She knows all the top makers in the pc world, she scours the internet for makers old and new, innovators, and whoever is making something intriguing, different, powerful, featuring around 250 makers every year. Her following? Well under a thousand. (To be fair, it looks like she’s just getting started on Instagram. But if every person she’s featured in her newsletters followed her, she’d easily be classified as an “influencer”!) (Six days of incredible posts for closing in on 16 years….) (OH, even more, because Studio Mojo usually has at least half a dozen little features on artists and resources.)
Next, my frustration with most hosting sites for artists, including FASO: Almost all of them focus on 2-D art: Painting, drawing, etc. I took a survey on mine, to get a “roadmap” for my marketing plan, and the first question was, is my work abstract or representational. (Um….jewelry?? And is anyone looking for my work going to use either of those terms to describe it? I don’t think so.)
Last, photographing my work is really, really tricky. Oh, photoing jewelry is okay, and the shrines come out well, if a professional photographer is doing the picture-taking. But decades ago, another polymer clay artist said, “Your photographer is one of the best, and yet they still can’t really capture the look and feel of how wonderful your little artifacts are in person.” That was true then, and it’s still true today. In fact, I believe the biggest factor in building my audience is when people come to my studio, and can actually pick up a little bear, or a horse, and hold it in their hand. It’s magic.
To sum up: I have a powerful creation story. I’m pretty good at telling stories. I’m good at the work I do. Good enough, anyway. I’m good at interacting with studio visitors, and engaging them with my work. I take a lot of pictures, I get professional ones when I need them (and can afford them!), I’ve gotten better at editing them, etc. I’ve done some major fine craft shows in my art career, my work’s been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers over the years, I grew a loving and loyal audience at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and I have some wonderful followers and collectors here in California, too.
But if I’m struggling on how to get my art to cross the path of people online,struggling to find more people who might also become fans, and maybe even collectors some day, then how is everybody else doing?
I know Cynthia occasionally feels ‘less-than’ as she comes across astounding new, young polymer clay artists. She wonders if she’s doing a good enough job, if what she posts is interesting and relevant. (YES, YOU DO AND YOU ARE, CYNTHIA!)
And in writing this, I just remembered my very first blog post at Radio Userland on December 1, 2002: What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common
Okay, this just blew my mind: I started with how, reading that Meryl Streep struggles to own her own skill and body of work, made me realize this is “normal” for creatives. We all have that little voice that says we’re not good enough, we aren’t as great as others think we are, that we are doing it wrong.
So let’s just kick that little voice outta the park today. Or at least let it out into the backyard so it can take a pee.
I believe, so far, that my art has brought many, many people a bit of joy and wonder into their lives. I love that, and I’m grateful.
I also believe that, from how people respond to my articles and blog posts, that hundreds, maybe thousands of people gain hope from something else I offer the world:
- You matter.
- Your creative work matters.
- It matters because it helps you be the best person you can be. It lifts your heart.
- And when you share it with the world, it will lift someone else’s heart, too.
I’m not the wisest, kindest, smartest, most talented cookie in the box, not by a long shot. But I know how much my creative work means to me, and I know it will call to me until I die. (Or dissolve, or lose my marbles. Whatever. It could happen.)
But I know this:
It’s not about the money.
It’s not about the likes.
It’s not about the number of followers, the number of comments, the awards, the sales, the money.
In fact, the more I learn about “influencers”, the more I don’t want to be one. And let’s face it, some dynamics rule the game. Actors are going to get more publicity/fame/likes than the people who actually help put movies together, right? We just see the actors more easily. There are plenty of people behind the curtain, people who do incredibly powerful, good work in the world, and it’s rare we ever even hear about them.
It’s not about how to game the system, because the system is too big, and makes too much money for the people/corporations who created them.
It’s simply about using the systems to share your work with others, as often as you can.
It’s about doing the work that matters to YOU.
It’s about supporting the people, the causes, the programs that help others, that heal others, that heal our planet.
It’s about doing what you can to be the best person you can be. Even if, like me, you suck at it sometimes.
So use social media to help share your work with others. If you find strategies (and hashtags!) that work for you, good on you! If you don’t, you are not alone. But you can still have a voice in the world. Your audience may be huge, or it may be small. But they love you and your work.
Sales are wonderful, but there are a thousand reasons why people don’t buy our art, probably because there are more artists/creatives in the world right now than in all the rest of human history. If you’re work isn’t selling, don’t take it as a measure of your worth. You just haven’t found your peeps yet, and they haven’t found YOU yet.
Don’t count the likes. Just hang on to that feeling when you realize something you’re working on is finished, and it turned out well, and how happy that makes you.
Works for me!
Now go make something.
(Ahem. If it’s cupcakes, I’d be honored to taste-test them for you.)